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Rocky Bleier
June 09, 1975
What was war like for a football player turned combat infantryman? Here is Vietnam, as it was for this Super Bowl star
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June 09, 1975

Rocky Bleier's War

What was war like for a football player turned combat infantryman? Here is Vietnam, as it was for this Super Bowl star

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"Well, I don't know. The lieutenant might be sore because we brought him back. He said he doesn't want any prisoners. He's gonna be sore."

"Well, let him be sore," I said. "We can't shoot him. He doesn't have a weapon. He hasn't tried anything. He just showed up."

Finally, we took him to the lieutenant, who checked him out and freed him.

It was that kind of war. There was no demarcation between residential areas and battlefields. There were no fronts or flanks or tactical moves, like the wars we studied in history books. We were just a bunch of guys wandering around in the woods, looking for that nebulous "activity." We didn't even know how to recognize it if we saw it. The first one hundred days I was in Vietnam, I never even saw a Viet Cong or an NVA.

The lack of a clear objective and the mounting anxiety worked a hardship on us. Each guy coped in his own way. Some were tempted by Tin City, which was generally off-limits for us for a few very good reasons. First, we didn't know the Vietnamese language or customs. Patting a boy on the head, for instance, is a sign of disrespect. Second, anti-American sentiment sometimes took cruel forms. One G.I. was given a Coke with finely ground glass mixed in the bottle; it killed him.

Other guys found their release in drugs, although drug use in our area had declined by the time I arrived. A few weeks previous, an enemy squad had penetrated the barbed wire and killed several G.I.s by tossing grenades into their bunkers. A large section of camp had been stoned on marijuana during that attack, and after it they were frightened into kicking that habit.

Some guys were drinkers. On my first day in camp, I was taken aside and asked if I was "a head or a boozer." I said, "Well, I like an occasional martini. On the rocks with an olive." They chuckled. Their idea of a mixed drink was to take a sip of warm Coke, then a belt of warm Scotch, swish it around in their mouths, and swallow.

We were issued 12 cans of beer a week, six cans of Coke, and I was more than content with my weekly ration. The warm Coke was merely unpleasant. The warm beer I could drink only with a grimace, but I drank it. It was the only remedy for the dusty, biting thirst that choked me on scorching afternoons.

My favorite beverage, however, was cocoa. Nothing warmed a chilly night on the hill like warm cocoa. And nobody could interfere with it, not even the enemy. I had just finished mixing a fresh cup one evening on top of my bunker when I heard the alarm, "Incoming rounds! Incoming rounds!"

We dived into the bunker as the first mortars struck camp. "I don't mind those guys taking the war seriously," I said to my friend Jim Britton, "but why couldn't they wait until I've had my hot chocolate?"

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